This is the fourth post in my continuing series testing out home food delivery services. This week’s box came from Home Chef. The price is the same as Blue Apron, and most of the packaging is recyclable. Unfortunately, they don’t offer a service to return the packaging that I couldn’t recycle.
The first box came with a nifty little binder along with a pamphlet with pictures and descriptions of common kitchen tools and knife cuts. It also has sections with storage tips, preparation tips, and cooking temperatures. This was something that the other boxes didn’t include and would be helpful for people who don’t have a lot of experience cooking.
When setting up the subscription, I was able to choose my dietary preferences: meat, seafood, or vegetables. They also allowed me to choose which foods I avoid. The list included pork, soy, red meat, nuts, gluten, dairy, mushrooms, and shellfish. For additional preferences, I could choose low-calorie and low-carb.
I selected seafood and vegetables for my preferences, and my avoidances were pork, red meat, and shellfish. For my additional preferences, I selected low-calorie.
Thursday, February 23, 2017 – Today I made the first of my Home Chef meals: Bulgar, Sweet Potato, and Pomegranate Grain Bowl with blood orange and shallot vinaigrette. It was absolutely scrumptious. The pomegranate seeds provided a little pop, almonds added a touch of crunch, the arugula was crisp, the vinaigrette was tangy, the sweet potato added a bit of sweetness, and the bulgar wheat added a little body. It was really great. And look at how pretty it is! The only thing that I would have added was a little bit blood orange or pomegranate juice to the vinaigrette.
Friday, February 24, 2017 – Today was my second meal from Home Chef: Cremini Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tarts with red onion, dried cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette. All of the ingredients came bundled together in a bag which was super convenient. It took about 20 minutes to prep and sauté the vegetables and about 5 minutes to assemble the tarts. The tarts then baked for 12 minutes, so the meal didn’t take very long to make.
When completed, the tart’s crust was nice and crispy and the veggies were delicious. The arugula added a bitterness that contrasted nicely with the creaminess of the cheese. I went light on the balsamic because I’m apparently the only person in the entire world who is not a fan of how balsamic tastes with sautéed mushrooms. The tiny amount I put on added just enough zing without being overwhelming. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I’d used the whole dressing packet. The cranberries got a little lost, but I’m pretty sure I would have thought something was missing if they weren’t there.
The tart was a little tricky to eat. I tried to eat it like pizza, but the puff pastry crust kind of delaminated and fell apart when I picked it up. I admitted defeat and used a knife and fork, a move which would have significantly impacted my political career had I done it in public (see here: http://www.cnn.com/…/politics/kasich-eats-pizza-with-a-fork/).
The tart was super delicious, and the portion size was perfect at two big tarts per serving (~550 calories). I have some puff pastry in my freezer, so I could see myself making a similar dish in the future.
February 25, 2017 – The final meal in this Home Chef box was Lasagna Bianca with cremini mushrooms and spinach. While my lasagna recipe is much better*, this wasn’t too bad. It was made with heavy cream, ricotta, and mozzarella and flavored with basil pesto. I went very light on the heavy cream because of the whole lactose intolerance thing, but I don’t think the extra heavy cream would have made that much of a difference. Yeah, the pasta probably would have been a little more tender, but I like my pasta to have a bit of a bite. Plus, one cup of heavy cream is 820 calories, so reducing the amount of cream cut the calorie load for the dish considerably. The recipe, as written, was 880 calories per serving.
As much as I love mushrooms, I was a little disappointed that two of the vegetarian dishes for this week used mushrooms for their protein. It wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if someone else were eating with me, but after I eat the second serving of lasagna tomorrow, I will have eaten two pints of mushrooms in the span of three days.
On the plus side, the portion size was nice and big. The piece in the picture is a little bit more than half of a serving. For scale, that plate is a 9″ diameter salad plate, not a full-sized dinner plate.
When I reheated my second serving the next day, I dumped some marinara sauce on top of the lasagna before I heated it. This kept it from getting dry, but it also added a ton of flavor. I definitely preferred it with the marinara. I guess I’m just not a huge fan of white lasagna.
My next Home Chef box arrives on Wednesday! I think it has fish in it.
Home Chef Week 1 Summary
Ease/clarity of recipes: 10/10
How many recipes would I make again? 2.3/3
Verdict: The tarts and grain bowl were amazing. That grain bowl was probably my favorite dish yet. I loved the combination of ingredients. The lasagna was pretty good, but I still prefer my own. I generally don’t eat pasta every week because it is so heavy. I’ve probably eaten more pasta in the past month than I have in the three months prior. The directions for Home Chef were the best written of the three services I’ve used.
Overall Rating: A**
*When I make lasagna, I go all out. I make my own sauce, pasta, and ricotta, so it’s quite an undertaking. I usually only make lasagna when I’m throwing a dinner party.
** The score actually calculated out to be a B+, but I gave them bonus points for bundling all of the ingredients for each recipe together, the awesome binder to put the recipes in, and because they had my favorite dish so far.
This week, in my continuing series of home food delivery services, I decided to try out Green Chef. After the introductory week, the vegan meal plan would have cost over $80, so I only did it for one week. By contrast Blue Apron was only $60. Another issue that I had with Green Chef was that I couldn’t recycle any of the packaging, and there was no option to send it back to Green Chef for them to recycle.
Friday, February 17, 2017 – This week’s food subscription box is from Green Chef. When I signed up, I chose the vegan option. Each dish is about 600 calories, and they are very veggie driven (YAY!). My first meal was ok. It was Barbecue Tempeh with Maple-Roasted Squash and vegan broccoli gratin. There wasn’t quite enough barbecue sauce on the tempeh and too many bread crumbs on the gratin. The butternut squash was a bit uninspired. It was just the squash with a bit of maple syrup, salt, and pepper. It went well with everything else, but it could have been a bit more special. I like tempeh, but the pieces were a bit too big to actually absorb the barbecue sauce. I ended up cutting it more thinly in the hopes that it would absorb more sauce, but that only helped a little. Also, the instructions were a little difficult to read while actively cooking. I completely missed that I was supposed to finish the gratin in the oven until I had been cooking it on the stove for 10 minutes. The pictures on the instructions weren’t overly helpful. I know what it looks like to put cubes of butternut squash in the oven. What would have been helpful is a picture showing me how they wanted me to cut the tempeh.
Saturday, February 18, 2017 My second meal from Green Chef: Black Bean Gorditas with homemade masa cakes and sautéed potatoes & poblano. It was absolutely delicious and only a little scorched.
Still having trouble with the instructions. The steps aren’t very well divided, so it’s hard to follow the steps and get the timing right. I had to spend a good two minutes figuring out what to do with the second half of the onion while trying to keep my stuff from burning.
Monday, February 20, 2017 – My last meal with Green Chef was decidedly meh. It was Red Curry Tofu with Black-Rice Ramen, broccoli & cauliflower, peanuts. The curry was a little vinegary and didn’t have very robust flavor. The slaw didn’t really go with the curry. The black rice noodles were nice, but I think I would have preferred black rice. There was very little sauce, so my last few bites were unseasoned, gummy noodles. The instructions were much better organized than the first two meals, but the pictures still weren’t particularly helpful.
The other downside to Green Chef was the cancellation process. I had to cancel the subscription the Wednesday before the next delivery. Since my first delivery arrived on Wednesday, I pretty much had to cancel the next order before the first had even arrived. The cancellation was also a multi-step process. I had to e-mail the company through the website and then click a link in an email to complete the process. Blue Apron’s cancellation process was much easier.
Green Chef Summary
Ease and clarity of instructions: 6/10
How many recipes would I make again? 1.2/3
Verdict: Two of the dishes were mediocre. The only dish I would make again is the Gorditas. I would do the barbecue tempeh again, but I’d use a completely different recipe.
Overall Rating: C-
Later this week, I’m trying Home Chef! It comes with some great recommendations, so I’m very excited.
I can’t think of a better way of celebrating love than eating macaroni & cheese and drinking mimosas. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Recipe from here: Episode 5: Baked Macaroni and Cheese
This is a continuation of my reviews of home delivery meal services. I tried Blue Apron for two weeks.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017 – Today’s meal is Crispy Barramundi with Melted Leek & Roasted Vegetables. The fish was good quality and nicely flavorful. It paired well with the horseradish sauce, which was so delicious I want to eat it on everything. The melted leeks were absolutely scrumptious. Stupidly, I flipped over my fish a second time, and it went from being crispy to being not crispy. I chalk that up to user error. I would definitely make this dish again.
Friday, February 10, 2017 – Today’s Blue Apron: Sicilian Cauliflower Pizza. Rather than having a sauce on the pizza, the cauliflower was coated with tomato paste, garlic, and capers. The pizza was sprinkled with golden raisins before being baked. The raisins weren’t obvious (they rehydrated a bit in the oven so they weren’t as raisiny). They just added little pops of sweetness, so each bite was a little different. I probably used a third less cheese than the recipe called for because they sent a lot of cheese. I cooked it until the cheese went dark because that’s the way I like my pizza. I’m generally not a huge fan of too much oregano, so I was a bit concerned about having it in the sauce and on top of the finished pizza, but the raw oregano added little notes of pepperiness. They sent enough supplies for three servings. Overall, this was scrumptious!
Sunday, February 10 – My final Blue Apron meal (at least for the time being): Fresh Basil Fettuccine with Datterini Tomatoes & Goat Cheese. It was a bit heavier than I usually eat, but absolutely scrumptious. The goat cheese added just a little creaminess to the sauce. I may steal this recipe in the future when I’m having a pasta craving. There’s an enormous bag of spinach in the recipe, so I felt like I was at least getting some green veggies.
Stay tuned: this Wednesday, I’m getting a box from Green Chef as I continue exploring home meal services.
Blue Apron Week 2 Summary
How many recipes would I make again? 3/3
Verdict: While the Fettuccini was a little heavy for my taste, the sauce lightened it up a bit. The cauliflower pizza was a revelation, and I will surely put cauliflower on future pizzas, and that horseradish sauce with the Barramundi was amazing.
Overall Rating: A
On my personal Facebook, I’ve been writing mini-blogs about using home meal delivery services, this post is a collection of those mini-blogs from my first week using Blue Apron.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017 – I decided to give Blue Apron a shot. This is the first of three meals that came in the box: Potato & Broccolini Samosas with Coconut Lentils & Yogurt sauce. It was delicious, and there was enough for three very filling servings. The only criticism is that I don’t have enough counter space for everything I needed to do, and the lentils needed a touch more lime and coconut. Otherwise, it was perfect. It took about 45 minutes to prepare, but some of that was baking time.
Friday, February 3, 2017 – Today’s Blue Apron meal is Warm Cauliflower & Kale Salad with Soft-Boiled Eggs & Sauce Meuniere. This was absolutely amazing. I slightly singed my sauce, and if anything, it made it better. The only issue is space. Even with my countertop extender, I barely had enough space for all of my mise en place and cutting board. I usually get around this by multitasking, chopping up one thing while the first thing is cooking. Unfortunately, the recipe is not set up for that. It isn’t a big deal, and for most people, it will be a non-issue.
I would definitely make this again.
Saturday, February 4 – This is the last of the three meals that I received on Wednesday, so no more updates until next week. This is Sunchoke & Egg Noodle Casserole with Kale and Mornay Sauce. It was much quicker to make than the other two dishes, but the sunchokes kept slipping off the cutting board and falling on the floor. Still, it was super yummy, if a bit heavier than I’d usually have for dinner, so I’m not sure I would make it on my own.
Blue Apron Week 1 Summary
How many recipes would I make again? 1.75/3
Verdict: I would definitely make the Warm Cauliflower Salad again. I would probably adjust the lentils and samosa dish slightly to add in more coconut and lime. The Sunchoke & Egg Noodles were delicious, but I probably wouldn’t make it again just because it was so heavy.
Overall Rating: B+
Next in my series of reviews of cookbooks for children are two Betty Crocker cookbooks: Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1957, available from Archive.org https://archive.org/details/bettycrockerscoo00croc) and Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1965). These two books were published by General Mills as part of their long history of creating cookbooks to help sell General Mills products and teach America how to cook.
Like Things to Cook (1951), the two Betty Crocker cookbooks for boys and girls attempt to be inclusive of both boys and girls. Both books begin with a page devoted to their “Home Testers”. A small sketch of each child involved in the project is accompanied by a quote. From these quotes, it is apparent that the children took their role very seriously. A girl named Elizabeth proclaims, “All those recipes sound like a lot of work. But we loved it,” and Ricky states “We always said what we thought, even if it wasn’t complementary.”
Both of these books contain some interesting gender dynamics. Both boys and girls participated as testers for both books. In the 1957 book, there are 12 testers, eight girls and four boys. The 1965 book had 13 testers, eight girls and five boys. While the ratio of boys to girls was certainly not equal, I appreciated that the publishers attempted to demonstrate that cooking is not just for girls. Indeed, throughout both books, girls and boys are featured in the illustrations accompanying the recipes; however, one interesting thing to note is that only boys/men wear chef hats in the earlier book. In Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls, a boy is wearing a chef’s hat on the title page and on page 87, and on pages 123 and 186, an adult male chefs are pictured wearing a chef hats. No girls or women are shown wearing chef hats. We can’t know if this was a deliberate choice, but this omission implies that only boys can grow up to be professional chefs; whereas, girls are mostly suited to be home cooks.
This issue of representation is improved in the second book in which a boy and two girls are shown wearing chef hats. The boy, pictured on the front cover, is wearing a white chef hat while proudly presenting a chocolate-frosted cake to a girl and young boy who gaze at him in amazement. On the back cover is a girl wearing a red chef hat; this image is replicated on the interior of the book as well. The girl in this picture is more passive than the boy on the cover. She’s surrounded by cooking supplies as she reads from a cookbook. On page 26, another girl is shown wearing a chef hat. In this case, the chef hat is white and she is carrying a plate full of streusel-topped rolls. While the placement of the pictures is not ideal representation of the potential of female chefs – they boy wearing the chef’s hat is on the front cover after all – it is definitely an improvement over the earlier books.
Also remarkable is that boys are the only ones pictured cooking outside of the house in both books. Boys cook on grills and over fires, but girls do not. Girls are shown eating outside, but the food appears to have been prepared inside and brought outside.
The parents are also treated differently according to their gender. While this isn’t particularly abnormal for the time period, there is a sense in both books that the kitchen was the mother’s realm. In the section titled “before you start to cook”, the first direction is “Choose a time to suit your mother, so you won’t be in her way.” The quotes from the children reinforced this sense that the kitchen belongs to the mother: “We always left the kitchen clean. Then Mother liked to have us help” and “We learned to use the pots and pans that our mothers have in their kitchens.” The father is not a presence in the kitchen. In the 1957 book, the word “dad” appears seven times, and each of these mentions is in reference to his birthday. By contrast, mom/mother/mama are used 13 times, mostly in reference to her domain in the kitchen.
Sample menus are provided for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the 1965 book, but there’s something a little unequal about the menus. Father gets oven-fried drumsticks. Mother gets SPAM a can of “pork luncheon meat” which has been flavored with clove-studded pineapple slices and brown sugar. The labor division is also unequal. For the Feast for Father, the child is directed to “switch jobs with Mother and let her be your assistant for such a special occasion. She’ll be happy to set the table, make the coffee, and give any other help needed” (141). On Mother’s Day, however, the father’s tasks are much less arduous: “Dad can pitch in to make the coffee” (142).
The recipes in both books are well written; although, they do seem to be a bit on the bland side. Both cookbooks have recipes for chili, but neither seem particularly spicy even though the 1965 book bumps up the spice level from one teaspoon of chili powder to two teaspoons. The majority of the recipes call for shortcuts, such as Bisquick, Betty Crocker Cake Mixes, and canned soups. That’s not surprising at all since Betty Crocker’s brand is built on convenience.
Some additional things that stick out: the hamburger recipes call for evaporated milk (ew) and there are remarkably few chicken recipes. There is only one recipe that calls for chicken in the book from 1957, and that chicken comes in the form of condensed chicken and rice soup from a can. In the later book there are only two chicken recipes, Creamy-Chicken Vegetable Soup (made by combining canned soups) and Oven-Fried Drumsticks.
Unlike Things to Cook (1951) both books have a rather substantial section on safety. Children are advised to “Ask mother before you use a sharp knife, can opener, or electric mixer.” Aside from standard cooking tasks: chopping, slicing, cooking on the stove, and pulling hot baking sheets from the oven, most of the recipes are fairly safe. One recipe calls for the use of a double boiler, which is slightly risky because of the hot steam, but none of the recipes require deep frying or working with molten sugar.
Finally, another major difference between the earlier book and the latter is the addition of a page devoted to nutrition. The page, titled “Foods you need- every day”, is very brief. It lists four food groups and how many servings are recommended per day. The book recommends 2 or more servings of meats; however, meats is a misleading term since it lists not only poultry and fish but also eggs, dried beans/peas, and peanut butter. Four or more servings of vegetables and fruits are also recommended, but the book gets a little more specific; it recommends one citrus fruit daily and one dark green or yellow vegetable every other day. Milk recommendations vary by age, as children are directed to drink more milk than adults. Four servings of whole grain, enriched, restored, or fortified breads and cereals are recommended daily. Finally, the reader is directed, “And don’t forget fats, sweets and extra servings from these four groups – they provide additional food energy and other food values.
Compared to today’s dietary recommendations, there isn’t all that much difference between what Betty Crocker and My Plate’s recommendations, aside from specificity. My Plate separates fruits and vegetables into two categories and has recommendations for different categories of vegetable, for example orange/red vegetables, starchy vegetables, dark green vegetables, etc. The other major difference is that sweets are not recommended as part of My Plate because in this scheme they are only supposed to be an occasional treat rather than a major fuel source.
For the next few posts, I’m going to be reviewing cookbooks for children. I’ve managed to collect quite a few in my travels, and I’m interested in seeing how they’ve evolved over time. I’ll be looking at the types of recipes in the books, the complexity of those recipes, how the information is delivered, and whether the books provide any extra information like how to set the table, safety, or etiquette.
The first book I’m looking at is Cook Book: A Picture Cook Book for Children by Helen Jill Fletcher. Curiously, the title on the title page reads “Things to Cook” instead of using the title on the cover. This book was published in 1951 as part of a series of books for this age group published by Paxton-Slade in the early 50s.
Written for children ages 7-12, the pages of this book are rather thick and coarse, like the pages of a child’s coloring book. There are step-by-step illustrations for each recipe; however, some of the illustrations are a little unclear without reading the accompanying text.
After the title page and table of contents is a section titled “What we must know about measurements”. The pages show some tips for accurate measuring; for example, it instructs children to measure dry ingredients before measuring liquids or fats and to butter the measuring cup to keep molasses from sticking. Next is a page of measurement equivalents and a chart explaining temperature equivalents to subjective oven temperatures. The chart shows that a slow oven equates to a 250-325 degree oven. A moderate oven is 325-400 degrees. While the terms “slow oven,” “hot oven,” and “very hot oven” are rarely used any more, I have seen them in a lot of older cookbooks. This cookbook was published at a time when people were transitioning from wood and coal fired ovens to ones with more accurate temperature controls. I’m guessing that the inclusion of subjective temperature equivalents was to help make the book accessible to those without temperature controls on their ovens or to help kids learn how to read older cookbooks.
Next is a primer on basic cooking skills. They review a few common skills needed to complete the recipes, including: creaming butter and sugar, beating, separating egg whites, chopping, dicing, and cutting. Then there’s a section on how to set a table, and some suggested menus.
The recipes are fairly kid friendly with no complicated or rare ingredients. Most recipes have between four and six ingredients. The most complicated recipes are the gingerbread men which calls for 11 ingredients. The recipes to lean a bit on the sweet side. Half of the recipes are baked goods, sweetened beverages, or sweet snacks. The rest are kid friendly appetizers, entrees, salads, snacks, and side dishes. Oddly, none of the recipes contain chicken. This is probably because chicken was expensive for most people until battery farming became more prevalent in the 70s and 80s.
This book attempts to be inclusive of both boys and girls. Each recipe is given either a boy’s name or a girl’s name. Thirteen of the recipes are associated with girl’s names and twelve with boy’s names. I tried to discern whether there was some sort of pattern to the naming of the recipes, but aside from things with wieners named for boys (Billy’s Franks and Beans and Wimpy’s Bacon-Wiener) and Hector’s He-Man Hamburgers, there really isn’t a pattern. There are salads, desserts, and vegetable dishes all with boys’ and girls’ names.
One thing that sets this book apart from other children’s cookbooks in my collection is that there is absolutely nothing about safety. At the very least, most books will have a section at the front warning kids that ovens are hot and that knives are sharp, but this book has nothing.
To see if there is anything truly hazardous in this book and to create a baseline for other books, I compiled a list of activities that I think can be particularly hazardous for children in the kitchen: deep-frying, pan-frying, making candy with super-hot sugar, using sharp implements, using beaters/mixers/blenders, and using a double boiler. I didn’t include things like boiling water or taking hot pans from the oven because they are pretty much standard when cooking; although, I imagine they are the cause of most kitchen-related emergency room visits for children. Keeping this list in mind, I found that most of the recipes in this book are fairly innocuous. There are a few recipes that require a double boiler and most recipes require cutting or chopping, but other than that there isn’t really anything dangerous. I still find it odd that there isn’t anything about kitchen safety in the book.
Most of the children’s cookbooks I’ve seen from the mid-century forward contain a recipe for hamburgers. This recipe seems more like a meatloaf than what I think of as a hamburger. It calls for ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, catsup, salt, and cooking fat.
The directions to make this merry-go-round cake are in the book as well. It has a plain yellow cake for the base. The animals are animal crackers, candy sticks are used as the uprights, and the canopy is paper cut into a circle with a radial slit so it can be shaped into a cone. Making decorative cakes seems to be a mainstay of cookbooks for this age group.
Not all of the illustrations are clear. It took me forever to understand that the top picture is a scrub brush cleaning a potato. I though it was an amoeba on a stick. This is page is from the recipe for potato boats, essentially twice-baked potatoes.